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Jul 31, 1998

Justice Meerabux orders Courtenay to pay $3.34 million

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In these strange pressure filled times it is increasingly difficult to tell where politics ends and the law begins. Today we are once again reminded of that tendency as another decision with strong political implications has been rendered in the civil suit of the Social Security Board versus V.H. Courtenay. Viewers will recall that last year Courtenay was acquitted of all criminal charges in the matter, in which he was accused of receiving three point thirty-four million dollars of the Social Security Board’s money and not delivering the shares in BECOL which the money was supposed to buy. Stung by that jury verdict, Social Security opted to pursue a civil suit to get back its money. Several months ago it was granted a judgement on technical grounds that the defendant did not submit a defense in a timely fashion. Courtenay, in what his lawyers claimed was a routine procedural matter, then applied to have that verdict set aside, so the case could be heard on its merits. Well today, Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice George Meerabux lowered the boom on the defendant by ruling that the written submissions of the defense were inadequate and could not justify the setting aside of the previous decision. V.H. Courtenay, he ruled, must therefore pay S.S.B. all the money, plus six and a half percent accumulated interest. The ruling was made late this evening and we have not received the written opinion, but interviews with the opposing lawyers, Philip Zuniga and Dean Lindo speak for themselves.

Philip Zuniga, Attorney for Courtenay

“We put up a solid, solid, written submission to the Supreme Court and frankly I expected the decision to have gone in my favor. We know that there are times when people have to lose the case, we understand that, but I think that those submissions that we did were so solid and this is why as you have heard I have indicated to the Supreme Court that we intend to appeal. You heard me say that I was greeted respect.

This was not a trial; this was an application based on affidavits. It is well known under the rules of the court: you do not try a case on affidavits. An affidavit is merely to put up what a defense would be and so that the court can understand what we will be submitting when we come to court. When we come to court we bring our witnesses and we bring the evidence. That is what it’s all about so he will not have had any evidence; that is not what it’s for.”

Dean Lindo, Attorney for Social Security Board

“The plaintiffs got judgement, so we have the judgement and they attacked the judgement. So they saw it, as I said, to set it aside. This is what this was about. The judge canvassed the whole thing, he set out all the arguments and in fact in his judgement he gave a detailed reason why he did not go along.

One of the things that the court acts on, and this is the case of the soiled eagle, that there has to be merit. If they want to set a judgement aside, you have commonsense because if you don’t have merit why should the court go through it. If it has merit then commonsense tell you the court should go through it. So this was a trial in which both sides represented had a fair trial and the judge is saying, that look I do not find any merit in the defense.

What he said, in fact very strictly, and this is rarely the case for the plaintiff: we paid three point four million dollars for shares which we did not get. And if there is a difference then the defense would say well they got it or they got back their money. But that appears no where in the defense they hope to put in. So that is where it’s at. So the court seh these people paid you the money, you didn’t give them what they bargained for therefore you are in default, you know, and then you must pay back the money. That’s what the court is saying.”

Zuniga has said that his client will appeal the decision and will ask for a stay of execution until the appeal is decided. Commenting on the ruling, attorney and P.U.P. Secretary General, Godfrey Smith this evening called it “a total abuse of the system and the law,” saying that such judgements are routinely set aside as a matter of course. As part of its continuing election campaign the P.U.P. has strongly suggested that the present system of contracts for justices of the Supreme Court makes them too susceptible to politically motivated influence.

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